Floods in Yellowstone National Park sweep away bridges and undermine roads

HELENA, Montana — A downpour combined with a rapidly melting snowpack caused a spate of flooding that forced the evacuation of some parts of Yellowstone National Park, cutting power and forcing park officials to close all entrances indefinitely, as did summer tourists season started.

While numerous homes and other buildings were destroyed, there were no immediate reports of injuries. Yellowstone officials said they were assessing damage from the storms, which washed away bridges, created mudslides and left small towns isolated, forcing evacuations by boat and helicopter.

It’s unclear how many visitors were stranded or forced to leave the park, and how many people living outside the park were rescued and evacuated.

Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and in the Gateway communities of Yellowstone in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, eroded bridges and roads eroded by turbulent waters from the Gardner and Lamar Rivers.

The flooding cut off road access to Gardiner, Montana, a town of about 900 people near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner Rivers, just outside Yellowstone’s busy north entrance. Cooke City was also isolated from flooding and evacuations were issued for Livingston residents as well.

Officials in Park County, which includes those cities, said on Facebook Monday night that extensive flooding across the county had made drinking water unsafe in many areas. Evacuations and rescues were underway and officials told people who were in a safe place to stay the night.

The Montana National Guard said Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with the evacuations.

Cory Motice, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said rain is not in the immediate forecast and cooler temperatures will reduce snowmelt in the coming days.

“This is a flood we’ve never seen before in our entire lives,” Motice said.

Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and frequent extreme events like storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, although individual weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive studies.

The Yellowstone River near Corwin Springs reached 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) set in 1918, according to the National Weather Service .

At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning could see up close as the waters rose and the riverbank tumbled in the raging waters of the Yellowstone River right outside his door.

“We started seeing whole trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning, who is from Terra Haute, Indiana, told The Associated Press. “I saw a crazy solo kayaker come down, which was kind of crazy.”

On Monday night, Manning watched as the torrent washed away the opposite bank of the river, causing a home to fall into the Yellowstone River and float away mostly unharmed.

Flood water inundated a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that is a popular trailhead for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone Highlands. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood across the street from a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.

The log home of her grandmother, who died in March, was flooded, as was the park where Apodaca’s husband had proposed to her.

“I’m the sixth generation. This is our home,” she said. “I literally drove on this bridge yesterday. My mom left at 3am before she washed up.”

On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern portion of the park, where roads may remain impassable for an extended period, Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

But the flooding also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of even higher flooding and potential problems with water supplies and sewage systems in built-up areas.

The rains arrive during peak tourism season: June, at the start of an annual surge of over 3 million visitors that doesn’t let up until fall, is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

Yellowstone got 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain Saturday, Sunday and through Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone rose up to 10 centimeters, according to the National Weather Service.

In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River has stranded 68 people at a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services and Stillwater Mine crews rescued people using a raft from Woodbine Campground on Monday. Some roads in the area are closed due to flooding and residents have been evacuated.

“We will assess the loss of homes and buildings as the water recedes,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The flooding happened while other parts of the US were burning in hot and dry weather. More than 100 million Americans have been warned to stay indoors as a heatwave sweeps across states stretching across parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.

Elsewhere in the west, from California to New Mexico, crews are battling wildfires in hot, dry, and windy weather.

Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver, Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/yellowstone-flooding-national-park-closed-2022/11955801/ Floods in Yellowstone National Park sweep away bridges and undermine roads

John Walker

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